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  • Writer's pictureJulie Reisinger, RVT, LATg

Winter Pet Safety

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

Winter is now upon us, which means cold weather, snow, and holiday hazards for your pet to navigate! Here are some helpful tips to keep your pets happy and healthy all season long:

Don't forget that livestock have extra needs in the winter, too!

Bring ‘Em Inside

It gets pretty cold here in the San Luis Valley, and most pets cannot tolerate extreme temperatures very well. Basically, if it’s too cold outside for you, it’s probably too cold for your pets. Although there are some types of dogs that were bred to withstand low temperatures (Huskies, Malamutes, Great Pyrenees, just to name a few), they should not be left outside for long in below-freezing temperatures. If you have to leave your pets outside, they must have a warm, dry, shelter that protects them from rain, snow, and wind, with plenty of clean bedding for extra insulation. You also will need to make sure they have a source of fresh, non-frozen water - you can find plenty of freeze-proof pet- and livestock-waterers at local livestock supply stores. Outdoor pets, especially working dogs, will need extra nutrition during the winter to help keep themselves warm and maintain a healthy body weight. Don’t forget that your livestock will also need extra care for the winter! Consult with your veterinarian about your pet’s and livestock’s extra nutritional needs during the cold months.

Brew, a Greyhound, loves his cold-weather coat!

Consider Adding a Coat

Pets that are younger, like puppies, and senior pets have a harder time regulating their body temperatures than healthy adults, so you may want to consider adding some extra protection for them. Most puppies and dogs tolerate sweaters and coats very well, although not everyone is a fan (especially cats!). Keep a couple of warm, dry sweaters or coats on-hand for your dog to wear when you let them outside or take them for a walk, but make sure to supervise any pet wearing clothing. Clothing can easily get caught on stuff, especially if your dog is romping around, and they can get stuck or caught in a dangerous situation; this is also why many vets do not advise putting cats/kittens in clothing. Do not put wet or damp clothing on your pet, as this can actually make your pet get colder faster. Dogs with short hair or leaner physiques (like Boxers, Chihuahuas, and Greyhounds) may also appreciate an extra layer during the winter!

Poodle feet need to be checked for ice balls after a romp in the snow

Protect Those Paws!

Walking and running around in cold weather can damage your pet’s paws if you aren’t careful. Salt and other ice melting products can not only dry out and crack paw pads, they can also be dangerous for your pet if they ingest them. Wiping your dog’s paws off after a walk with a warm, damp towel works great! You can also consider getting boots for your dog - these are especially helpful if you find yourself hiking through lots of snow and/or rough terrain that can tear up paw pads. Not all dogs appreciate boots, and there is often some training and conditioning that is needed for the boots to be tolerated. Another option for paw protection is a wax that can be put onto your dog’s paws before taking them outside. You can find instructions for making your own online, but Musher's Secret is a great, affordable, ready-made option that I like to use (you will still want to wipe your dog’s paws off after a walk/hike when using this, but it is great for paw protection). If you have a dog with furry feet, you’ll also want to keep the fur between their paw pads trimmed to prevent the formation of ice balls, which can lead to hypothermia or frostbite if not removed.

Watch Out for Ice

Ice can be very dangerous for humans and animals, and you should avoid letting your dog run and play on it. It can be difficult to tell if ice is thick enough to support your dog’s weight, or how well frozen it is, and if the ice can’t support your dog, it definitely won’t be able to support you if you have to try to attempt a rescue. Even if you avoid bodies of water, icy walkways and yards can also be dangerous. Slips and falls on ice can cause strained/pulled muscles, and serious injuries, like torn ligaments and broken bones. You can find pet-safe ice melting products at pet supply stores or online to alleviate any ice-prone areas around your home and yard.

Holiday Hazards

In addition to winter hazards, the holidays can bring their own concerns. Here’s a brief list of things to keep in mind, from the AVMA:

  • Know in advance the hours of your preferred vet, and the keep the contact info for an emergency vet in a convenient location, like your refrigerator door

  • Keep human food away from your pets! Chocolate, xylitol (a sugar substitute), onions, grapes/raisins, and many other foods can be toxic to your pets. In addition, table scraps, animal bones, yeast doughs, and fatty foods can cause life-threatening conditions like pancreatitis if they are ingested.

  • Be cautious of decorations, including Christmas trees and plants. Additives to Christmas tree water can be dangerous for pets if they drink it, and holiday plants (like poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly) can be poisonous if ingested. Ornaments and light strands can cause mouth injuries, blockages, or electrocution if chewed on or ingested (curious kitties are especially prone to playing with these). And remember to never leave lit candles unattended around pets!

  • Holiday guests can be stressful for pets; make sure your animals have a safe, quiet area they can stay in or retreat to when having visitors over.

Dave tried his best to convince Santa to bring him extra toys this Christmas!

For even more details on how to keep your pets safe this winter, check out these great resources:

Our blog is intended to provide tips, advice, and information to all animal lovers. While we encourage all pet owners to be well-informed, the advice offered on this page is not a replacement for veterinary care. If you are concerned about the health of your pet, please contact your veterinarian!

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